Anxiety and depression can often involve thoughts that draw us inwards to ruminate on past events or feelings, or away from ourselves to worry about an unknown future.
In a pandemic, this can be exacerbated in a way when we might not be able to connect so freely with other people. You might start worrying about the ‘what ifs’ – what if there is another lockdown, what if I catch covid, what if someone I care about gets sick, what if I can’t get a job, what if I have to go back to the office, what if I am single forever, what if my children struggle at school, what if I grow old alone, what if things don’t work out for me, what if I struggle with my uni course, what if, what if….?
Or you might be ruminating on the ‘why did’s’ or ‘why didn’t’ – why did that happen to me, why didn’t things work out, etc.
You’re not alone. I have written several posts on trauma and PTSD and working through things that have got ‘stuck’ in our body, brain and nervous system, so if you need to, feel free to do some key word searches on those topics. However, aside from the serious subject of traumas, and clinical depression, which I have also posted about, we can’t change the past by ruminating on it (although there are times when we need to ‘work through’ certain events to get free from them, and we may need professional help to do so, and that is ok, it is more than ok, it is brave). So if you’re not in those situations of trauma and depression, but you do find yourself going inwards into your own thoughts too much such as thoughts about the past, or worrying about the future, then it may be time to take a deep breath and focus on the NOW.
Slow down a bit, try to do something while being aware of all of your senses. It can be something as simple as making a cup of tea. What do you hear when you boil the kettle (or teapot), what do your eyes see when you observe the steam rising, what can you hear, see and smell when you pour hot water into your mug over the tea bag, how does it feel to hold that warm mug in your hands, what do you taste when you take a first sip?
Be aware of NOW. Bring your mind into the present, and seek to enjoy THIS moment. x
I know that blogging about mental health and self care in a pandemic is good for other people, and it helps me too to write and explore my thoughts. Yet, you may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a few days, or perhaps a week or so since my last post, I can’t quite recall. Sometimes, friends, it’s hard to keep going, even with the things that we know are good for ourselves and for other people. And that’s ok.
It’s ok to have peaks and troughs, ups and downs in life. For many of us, the pandemic and lockdown is just one aspect of what we are going through just now. Many of us are overcoming longstanding mental health issues in addition to some of the cares and concerns of present day, and that can be tough.
For the most part, I’ve found that the tools and techniques I had previously learned to help me to overcome complex post traumatic stress, anxiety and depression were helpful in sharing with others and sharing ideas of how we can progress through this pandemic. Yet lately, I’ve been struggling a bit with some of these recurring issues. Sometimes it is hard to keep going, and I’m sure there are many among you who know what I mean. Our minds can at times be scary places and can throw up all kinds of traumatic memories, sensations and even things of their own imaginings, and when we are in lockdown it can seem all the more intense.
So what do we do? Let me remind us of two truths:
We are not our thoughts and feelings.
This too shall pass.
When I was a child I thought I was my thoughts and feelings and I thought I was all of the horrible things that people called me. I had no concept that the rush of anxiety and the hormones my body was producing and the intense emotional, psychological and physical pain I felt made me feel awful together with the abusive words and treatment from other people against my very personhood. I thought I was awful and horrible and disgusting because people and my own body and brain made me feel that way, and I did not know how to de-escalate those feelings. The result was a very dark season of my life when as a child I thought there was something terrible about me and when everything felt so bad and the reality was that I was severely traumatised. I also for the first time no longer wanted to be alive. I’m using that language so as not to trigger anyone.
Well, by God’s saving grace, I survived. I’m overcoming things. Yet at times my brain and body throws up those awful experiences and it’s my job as an adult to know that those things are separate from my worth as a person and to learn ways to de-escalate those feelings.
Perhaps you are struggling with unwanted or uncomfortable or awful thoughts and feelings and you need someone to remind you that you are not your thoughts and feelings and you are not the bad things that you may have been told. That’s not how your worth is defined as a human being. You are worthy because you are human and the God Who Created you loves you and wants to restore you, forgive you, clean you up, heal you and give you a future and a hope. That’s not to say that there won’t be ups and downs but Jesus Is strong enough and loves you enough to get you through.
So, regardless of what you believe right now, know that your worth is simply in your humanity. You are not what you feel, you are so much more than that, you are valuable and important. That is a FACT.
Secondly, this too shall pass. There have been times when life has been hard as a child and then later in adulthood when traumas resurfaced that my brain started throwing up those horrible thoughts and feelings about not being able to cope and about giving up on life, etc. If I gave in to those thoughts and feelings, then I wouldn’t be here writing these words of encouragement to you. Those thoughts and feelings came and over time and with effort and God’s grace, they went, or lost intensity. I no longer feel that way. So if you are feeling overwhelmed, helpless or stuck in this pandemic or in some difficult circumstance or by your own mind, know that it is a temporary state and just as the seasons change so too will the way you feel, and you can take steps (read my many blog posts to find some suggestions) to feel better. The sun will shine again my friends.
In addition to this, I’d like to encourage you to do the following:
Engage your logical brain especially when your thoughts and emotions start to overwhelm you. It can be tough to do things that are good for us when we’re not feeling just quite right, but you can do it, I believe in you. Maybe you could do a crossword puzzle, or play a non-triggering computer game such as solitaire. Maybe you can go outside for a walk if that is available to you and start to notice things of a certain colour, or count how many birds you can see. Maybe you can set yourself some small tasks around the house, or if you are in a better place you can engage with some of your much loved hobbies from playing an instrument, listening to music, dancing, exercise, reading a book, cross stitch, gardening, cooking, or some kind of arts or crafts. When we engage with our senses this helps to activate certain healthy brain areas.
Connect with other people and let someone know how you’ve been feeling. It’s understandable that you may feel you don’t want to ‘offload’ onto others if you think they are going through their own things, but it is important to have human contact and to be able to bounce ideas off other people and to know that those connections are in their own way a form of ‘grounding’ in present reality. We don’t always have to talk about our ‘stuff’ but it is important to keep in contact with other human beings. If you don’t have someone to talk to then you can always call a helpline. And if you aren’t up for that, always know that you can read my blog for encouragement and advice and know that you’re not alone in whatever you are going through.
Try to maintain a routine outside of your head. It’s all too easy to get lost in our minds and trying to figure out or to solve our problems from the inside out. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years and that’s ok. One thing that does help me get from one moment to the next is to have tasks to do outside of my own head and it gives my mind a focus knowing that I have to get up and do this or that rather than allowing myself to lie down under the weight of whatever it is I am thinking or feeling. Perhaps these could include eating something healthy, reading a book, doing a bit of exercise, getting fresh air, playing an instrument, writing a blog post, or watch something non-triggering and uplifting such as a nature documentary. Sometimes the things we do to help ourselves can also uplift those around us or those we are connected to online, such as in the blogging community.
So if you are finding it hard to keep going right now, remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, you are worthy as a living being, a human being and try to give yourself some positive affirmations. Also remind yourself that this too will pass and you will move forwards and feel better again just as you have in times past. Try to engage your logical brain, stay connected with other people who are good influences in your life, and set yourself some small self care tasks that will help take you out of your head. If like me you sometimes feel like you ‘shouldn’t’ be struggling, or you feel bad because of your mental health struggles, then know that it is completely normal, all human beings have faulty minds in some way or another and encourage yourself that you are looking for healthy ways forwards, even by reading this blog you are doing so, so give yourself a ‘well done’ and a pat on the back for that because small steps matter.
Remind yourself that you are not alone, and take a look through my blog archives for plenty of helpful material on managing your mental health and self care in the pandemic and otherwise just generally in life.
Even if all you feel able to do today is the smallest of steps then that’s ok, because small changes add up. We all have our ups and downs, and I had to take some time out of blogging over the past few days because I was finding things difficult again myself. That’s ok. I am proud of you for reading this blog post especially if you have been finding things difficult. That could be one of the tasks you have done to care for yourself and there are plenty of posts you can come back and read later on too to help keep you going and give you ideas for how to persevere.
Well done, my friend. Let’s keep taking those small steps forward to care for our bodies and our minds in what has been a challenging time and to remind ourselves of how far we have come and that we can keep going.
You are worthy, you are important, you are here for a reason and you have the strength to take that one next step and the next, and the next and on and on……
All you have to do is live a moment at a time and you CAN do that.
Be blessed. Stay safe and know you are important, worthy and loved. x
Hi friends, I must admit that the mornings here in Scotland are getting a bit challenging for me to deal with at the moment. I’m not sure if the sun is shining in your part of the world, but where I am the sky is a big grey sheet and it is drizzling with rain. Trees are bare branched and there is a bit of a wind whistling through them. I and many others are probably longing for spring and a bit of sunshine (when hopefully the general population won’t go crazy and be irresponsible with going outside or forgetting about social distancing…but that’s for another chapter!).
Whatever the weather is like where you are, it is part of the human condition to sometimes struggle with focusing on the things that our bodies, minds and hearts experience that might get us down. We need to have a plan in place for times like that and the more we can implement better thought habits the better we will be for it through the course of our lives.
My sleep was a bit unsettled, I woke up with unsettling feelings and thoughts inside, and then I woke up to grey skies and a ‘dreich’ day as the Scots say. I knew that I had to get out of my head a bit and so I opened the patio door and got some fresh air on my face. I could see and hear birds, and even saw a fox running behind our garden fence! I appreciate these things having lived the first part of lockdown 1.0 on my own in a tall flat with no garden space or balcony!
It did me good to get some fresh air, but I still felt unsettled. I had breakfast and did some exercise, all the while building up on the new and more helpful thought patterns and neural pathways. This can be effortful at times. We can forget to breathe. We can get lost in the tangle of unsettling thoughts and feelings. We can become overwhelmed and stay stuck focusing on the wrong things. Memories and impressions arose in my mind. Perhaps they do for you, and not particularly the ones you want to remember. Sometimes we want to ‘swat’ them away. Yet there is power in learning to sit with those difficult thoughts and feelings safe in the knowledge that we are not our thoughts, and they will not last.
If you are struggling with things today, be aware of what you are allowing yourself to focus on. As I said in an earlier post, it is normal to have ups and downs, but sometimes those difficult spells can feel really hard to us. That’s why we need Help from Above, and we also need practical tools and strategies.
So whatever it is you are finding yourself focusing on, if it is a negative thing that is, sit with it for a moment, take a deep breath and try to reframe your thought into focusing on something else more positive and productive. The fact that you have read this far in my somewhat rambling blog post is a positive thing in itself! 🙂
Keep moving, feel your feelings, externalise them in some safe way if that helps such as journaling or chatting to a friend, or praying through them to God. Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts and feelings, and that they will pass.
Think of something more positive to turn your attention to and do that for a while. It takes time. We can feel destabilised and discouraged when we feel these difficult things as if we are those things but we are not. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are valuable. And there is an important reason we are here today and we all have a purpose. If you don’t know your purpose, I have written a post about that and finding it in the very things that are right in front of us. You can find a purpose for the next five minutes, and the next, and the next and going on from that….so just focus on the next step on those difficult days.
Remind yourself also that it takes time and practice for all of us to make new neural connections, and trains of thought and patterns of behaviour as our brains readjust from negative thought patterns, experiences and beliefs that we may have been used to or conditioned by for many years. But we can make a change and each small step is important.
There are a couple of verses in Christian Scripture that help me and encourage me with this: ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2) and ‘You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make /set you Free’ (said by Jesus Christ Who also comforts us by showing us that He Is The Way, The Truth and The Life). John 8:32, John 14:6.
We can be free. And even with everything going on in your life today, you can make progress. If you are in a ‘slough of despond’, if you feel like you have fallen down a metaphorical well and don’t know how to get out, don’t let the darkness overtake you, don’t look down at the ground, don’t stay stuck in your difficult thoughts and feelings – instead, like an intrepid explorer find that spark within you that says ‘keep going’, ‘you can do this’ and like a curious child, look for the solution to a puzzle that can be solved. Look up to the light streaming in that otherwise darkened well, look for the foot and hand holds on the side and begin, one small effort at at time to climb up. You CAN do this.
We will speak again soon, friends. If you are doing well, keep going. If you are doing very well, reach a hand out to help someone else. If you are feeling stuck, you can make progress. Just do that next one thing, and be aware of what you choose to focus on. It’s ok to feel those tough feelings, to sit with them a while, to process them, to responsibly vent them without hurting anyone else, to be creative about it, but don’t stay in that place all day. Focus on something new. Do the next thing. And never give up. x
We’ve talked previously about turning our goals into habits to help us keep on track throughout this pandemic and especially in long and extended periods of lockdown like some of us are in just now.
But what about when all of that still seems too much? We’ve broken things down into small manageable parts so that we can persevere in doing what we want to rather than sinking into a ‘slough of despond’ but sometimes even that seems a bit too much.
It can be difficult to find our way forwards even with some kind of structure and plan, especially if we are feeling overwhelmed or we have pre-existing mental health conditions that might draw us to turning inwards and getting lost within our own thoughts and potentially difficult emotions.
So, try this when you’re feeling that way. Imagine drawing a box in front of you, or perhaps not a box as such but a rectangle like you might see in a children’s chalk outline of a game of ‘hop scotch’ on the pavement. Think of that rectangle as a neat contained space for the next five minutes. Doesn’t that make it a bit easier to take the next step (or ‘hop’ 🙂 )?
Think of something outside of your mind to do and know that you only need to deal with the next five minutes or the next step at any given time. Even when things seem overwhelming and thoughts of past or future depress or unsettle you, the next five minutes doesn’t seem so unsurmountable does it?
I know that it can be hard and I don’t deny you the difficult things you may be feeling or going through, I have struggles too, but I find that these little techniques can get me out of a slump or can help keep me from falling into one. And when you’ve taken that step in that contained five minutes, you can take the next one, and with a hop, skip and a jump, you might just find that you actually begin to enjoy the process!
Stay safe and well friends, and we’ll continue soon through this journey of encouragement and self care as we make progress through this pandemic. x
For those of you who are more familiar with my blog, you’ll know that I have been overcoming complex PTSD, depression and anxiety from adverse childhood experiences particularly in school and among peers, and cumulative stress throughout the years into adulthood.
I’ve come a long way, and would consider myself not a victim, or survivor anymore but an overcomer. I am still working on this stage, but perhaps one day I will be able to think of myself as a ‘thriver’, that’s one of my goals. I’m not there yet, however, and there are still daily mental battles that I am overcoming. This could easily become a negative obsession were it not for the fact that having had some help I now have some tools to move forwards with to help me be present in my day to day life.
It got me thinking that we all have our ‘stuff’. We all have things that we have survived and need to overcome. Some among you may be familiar with this road, like myself, and others among you may have for the first time experienced something in this pandemic that has hit you hard and even traumatised you as well.
For a long time I had no idea how to heal. The answers are complex, and I rely on the grace of God. There are however things that I can share with you that I have learned. Sometimes we go over our stories again and again in order to try to make sense of them, to find meaning, to reprocess, to create a new narrative. This is hopeful. At other times we are so impacted by our inner pain that we go over and over it because trauma actually has us ‘stuck’ there. Stuck trying to get free, flailing as if drowning, trying desperately to come up for air. I was there internally for a very long time until I got outside help.
Now that I am working on things by myself again, I have made considerable progress with my inner mental road map as I look to the examples of others who have or are overcoming something difficult in their lives. I’ve written about this before, and you might like to look out my post on mentors for more insight.
As we heal, as we continue on our own recovery journeys of whatever type they may be, we can also seek to build. As we try to make sense of what happened to us and the sometimes devastating impact it had and continues to have, we can see opportunities to use these experiences for growth not only in our own lives but to help other people to – to build.
I’d like to encourage you (and myself) today to consider what thoughts are going on in your mind that you are grappling with as you try to recover, make sense of, heal or move on from something.
Many of us have experienced verbal abuse at some point in our lives. For those of us who are particularly sensitive this can be crushing and can destroy our sense of self worth. We may have to spend decades trying to survive these inner wounds until we can get to a place where we can start affirming our own worth and begin to believe it. That is why I say, ‘build as you heal’. While I am overcoming these effects in my own mind and life, I can remind myself that there are still children out there who are going through things like I went through. I can remind myself that there are adults still struggling with the things I did a few years ago at the peak of CPTSD. I can remind myself that there can be greater compassion for people who have suffered even if and when their suffering is different to mine. And as I seek to continue my own healing journey I can think of ways that I can use this for good, and to build up other people.
I may be able to show more compassion, understanding and care to the young people in my life. I may be able in some small way to encourage my friends who are parents, or to build up adult friends who have traumas of their own. I can write, and blog and encourage you. I can think of the examples of others who have gone before me who have used the most awful experiences in their lives to heal and build and build and build.
Can you think of any striking examples of people who have overcome their own struggles and sufferings to go on to help other people in notable ways?
The ways you and I heal and build don’t need to be so notable because the smallest most silent and seemingly invisible acts of kindness can transform destinies. A broken person might have their life course changed by a simple act of kindness that shows them their humanity and worth is recognised. You never know, you might just be the person to do it.
Let us not wait until we are fully whole in order to begin to build. Our families, friends, communities and our world needs kindness to be built up into their foundations. Kindness and love.
As you continue healing, think of the lessons you can learn that you can pass on to others. I personally believe that when we are struggling in our healing journeys that this perspective can actually help us personally as well. If I am so caught up in my own suffering then I may believe the lies that were said about me. But if I think of another little girl suffering the same thing, I can grow in strength and perspective by saying, it’s not her fault, she’s precious and valuable and beautiful and made in God’s image, and then I can more logically begin to apply the same reasoning to myself as a child.
The wounds of childhood can run deep. They can crush us. But they can also be transformative. They can teach us to overcome, and to be the helpers and healers of the future.
Maybe your wounds are from adulthood, maybe they came as fiery darts to you in this very pandemic. Don’t be defeated by them. It is The Truth that sets us free. The Truth of our dignity and inherent worth and value to our Creator God. There are other people languishing in the same kind of deep pain that I and perhaps you have languished in. As we heal, let’s build, not only for ourselves but to be the ones who can and will lend a helping hand …. when the time comes.
It’s understandable that things may get you down. The times we are living in are, after all, *unprecedented*, as we keep being told.
There’s a lot going on, and I understand that. You know in your own life what you have going on. On the other side of a computer screen, perhaps even on the other side of the world, or maybe closer to home, I, the person writing this cannot see into your heart or know your deepest thoughts, hurts or fears. Yet I do know that we share a common humanity, and I do know from experience that sometimes life can be very hard.
Sometimes life, and being human, can really get us down. I hear you. I feel that. My encouragement for you today, however, is not to stay down for too long. The wisdom book of ‘Ecclesiastes’ tells us that there is a time for every matter in life.
“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3).
And in our own lives, we can see that there are times of suffering, times to grieve that suffering, times to be alone, times to be helped by other people, times to build up, to get stronger, and times of joy too.
If you are in a season of strength, keep going strong, keep building what is good, keep doing what is right. If you are in a place of pain, then take solace that you are not alone. In all of humanity across the ages people have felt feelings similar to what you are feeling, even if you feel like you are the only one. Yet, those times did not last forever. If life, if the pandemic, if being you is getting you down right now, that’s ok – it’s ok to feel all of those raw and real human emotions. But don’t let it keep you down. There is a time when we may get knocked over, but there is a time to get back up again, and again and again if need be. Be strong. Be courageous. Let your faith be far, far greater than your fear. You don’t need to have it all together or all sorted out, but don’t stay down for too long.
Do you remember that a few posts back we talked about daily habits, and about building new habits into our routines? Perhaps I will check back with you all properly shortly and we can do a progress check together. However, these simple tools that we use in our day to day lives can help us when the going gets rough. They can provide prompts that can help leverage us up and out of the pit of despair and into taking the next step of action.
Today I ‘brainstormed’ some ideas for myself. I made a list of what the people who inspire me do or have done to make progress in their lives. The three people I focused on are people who I don’t know personally but who are famous (and I mentioned them in my last post and some previous others: Lizzie Velazquez, Katie Piper and Nick Vuijicic). I’m looking for help and inspiration in the ‘what next’ of life. How do I take the next step, what do I do next, how do I get stronger in this journey of recovery and overcoming so that I can confidently thrive in life even if that seems a few steps ahead of where I am right now?
The list was impressive, encouraging, insightful and helpful. It was both inspiring and practical and down to earth. Yet it was not something that was simply handed to me. It took me time and thought and effort to come up with. And it helped me to realise that I am already doing many of the things that my role models are doing, even if on a very small scale. Yet one thing we all have in common is that sometimes we have all just had to take the tiniest of next steps even if they don’t seem to be that impressive at the time. They all add up.
Perhaps this is something you can do for yourself. Maybe you can think of a person or some people that you look up to in life, whether you know them personally or not, and make a list of the qualities, characteristics and attributes that they have that you aspire to. Write down some of their practical achievements. List some of the things about them that you admire. And begin to put into practice some of those things that you want to also be part of your own life. The chances are that you already do some or many of these things, even if in little day to day ways. Small things matter. Small steps, goals, achievements all matter. Repetition of these small things also matters, which is why I may reiterate some of the same advice that I have shared in a variety of ways, because we need that healthy positive reinforcement.
If you are feeling down, try not to stay down for too long. Even if it seems like a long season for you, one that isn’t a particularly happy one, try to think of the lessons that you can be learning, the resilience you can be building, and the seeds of faith and hope that you can be sowing. For when you come out on the other side, you may just be that stronger person for someone else to look up to for help and advice.
In times of need, when life has been weighing heavy upon me and I’ve felt crushed, there was always a sense of disconnect with people who although well meaning told me that they hadn’t ever really suffered. Their kindness was appreciated of course, but I never felt the comfort I needed from someone who had been there. Maybe you are or will be that someone who has been there, for someone else. Be strong, be courageous, don’t let the difficult season get you down for too long, for there will inevitably be a new season after this, for which you will want to be ready.
If you are not down, try to remember that you may be able to be a helping hand for someone else who is.
Be strong, be courageous, look up with faith, and take that next simple small step forwards.
I hope you’ve all been keeping as well as can be since my last post, last week. For a time I was writing a few posts a day, with a desire to keep up the momentum of encouragement. I feel that encouraging words are so important in these days, when words can and are being used for harm as we have seen in recent events across the world stage. However, although having the space of one week since my last encouraging post may not seem like a lot, I do want to be a consistent voice of hope and courage for those who need it.
The past week has had some challenges for me, however. Starting back at work saw some stressors, even with working from home. I had some difficult moments but various things got me through them. We have also had sad news recently of bereavements of friends of family in some tragic circumstances. I realise that some of you reading this may have faced or be facing quite overwhelming challenges in your lives. It can be hard to know what to say to comfort others or even ourselves during such times. It can be hard to know what to say in this pandemic where there is such loss. ‘This too shall pass’ is one of those old phrases that we often hear, sometimes passed down through the generations to give some kind of solace and comfort.
This moment won’t be as difficult as it is now, this too shall pass, things will change.
I find that only a small consolation, but what gives me True Hope is knowing that as things change and move on, my Unchanging God and Saviour Jesus Christ does not change, will not leave me, and holds me secure. It Is a Peace that goes beyond circumstances, but one I need to remind myself to focus on too.
When I was a child and was being bullied relentlessly in the first year of secondary school, I did not know that that season of life would ever pass. The following year I stepped away from the people who were destroying me, and I was all but completely alone, which was a significant challenge for a child in itself. Abuse, and then neglect, at school. In my third year I met nice, normal people who became friends, and although I didn’t entirely feel like I fit with the new group as much as they did with each other having knowing each other for years already, I didn’t feel scared for my life anymore. I could continue with life, with school, with getting by. Decades later, the impact of those two pivotal years is still felt. I’ve had major struggles with anxiety, complex PTSD, depression, disassociation and fear, low self esteem and even suicidal ideation when the PTSD resurfaced. And here I am today, with a home of my own, with a full time job, with the family I was born into, with friends, having travelled, and writing a blog to encourage other people. I’m still recovering from some of the mental and emotional scars but I’m able to see hope and a future in Christ, and I can use those difficult experiences for good.
Why am I sharing this again now? Because at the time, in that first year I felt crushed, broken, terrified, and in so much pain and agony internally that I didn’t want to live anymore. It’s a big burden for a child to bear. But I did bear it, and hear I am today. With wounds or not, that terribly dark season of my life that I didn’t see a way out of, not having any perspective as a child that things could or would change, has passed.
And this too will pass. Whatever it is you are going through, it will pass. This pandemic will pass. A while ago I started reading ‘The Murmur of Bees’, hardly knowing what it was about. It turns out that as I turn the pages I am reading about not only a revolution, but also about the Spanish Flu of 1918. Reading some of those pages feels like reading some of the news headlines and public health advice of today about quarantining, staying at home, keeping distance from people and sadly about bodies being sent to mass graves. I also read about the hope of finding a vaccine for the Spanish Flu. And guess what, it too did pass.
That’s not to diminish by any means the personal tragedies and losses that people felt along the way, but in terms of world events, things did change, they did move on, and perhaps there is a cyclical element to what happens in the world, but they didn’t stay the same, and in many ways they did get better.
Despite saying that I also believe that there will be a Judgement, when Christ returns to earth again, but we are being given time to repent, to seek His Forgiveness and to turn to Him for eternal life, new life in this world, and a Hope that cannot be denied. True Believers know of this Hope, of the Indwelling of The Holy Spirit, The tangible Peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding and the solid Hope of Eternal Life with Him, and a gradually transformed (or sometimes immediately transformed) life with Him on earth. Turn to Him for True Hope.
Perhaps there is a time in your own life that you can look back upon, a time that seemed like endless misery that you thought would never pass, but it in fact did and you are living new days. You may well bear the scars of those days, that season, you may still be in recovery from it, but you are no longer there. You have a chance.
Those days passed, and these will too. Look up, look to Jesus, and find True Hope. And even if you are not a believer, please try to hold on to hope that this too will pass.
In the UK, there are a couple of well known insurance companies with catchy ‘theme tunes’ (or ‘jingles’ if you use Americanised English) as part of their adverts.
One is called ‘Go Compare’ with a caricatured opera singer singing ‘Go Compare, Go Compare…!’ Some might find it a little annoying, but it certainly sticks in the mind, and as far as advertising is concerned, I suppose that’s the point – to be memorable, and to ‘stick’.
Another cute advert that you might be aware of is one with animated / toy Meerkats that deliver the lines. Their slogan lets us know that it’s not ‘Compare the Meerkat’ but ‘Compare the Market dot com’ in an Eastern European accent. Almost everyone over here will know these characters because they’ve become so memorable. I even know that the original Compare the Market meerkat is called Sergei! Another is Oleg, the baby meerkat. They offer discounts, cinema vouchers and added extras as part of their low cost insurance. Let me just say that I’m not sponsored by anyone, but it just proves my point that these things can be catchy and stick with us.
Our culture teaches us to compare:
So what does that have to do with anything, and with self care in the pandemic in particular? I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that our culture, particularly western culture or cultures that use a lot of advertising and / or social media encourage us to compare our lives with others or with a ‘dream like’ life.
We are prompted to compare our skin with the skin of airbrushed models so that we will buy that next beauty product that will make us more like the ‘ideal’. We are compelled to compare our bodies, our lifestyles, our health and fitness, our belongings with other people’s and to fill up that ‘lack’ in our lives by buying that next product or paying money to make our lives better in some way.
Sometimes we are prompted to compare our lives with those who are poor or suffering in some way so that we will realise just how much we have, how much they need, and give towards fulfilling the need of others through charitable acts. Such comparison can be good, when we are giving towards causes that are just and fair and above board and that actually do help other people. While comparison can be ‘the thief of joy’, it can also be a humbling force that causes us to be more grateful and to give to other people out of love, duty or kindness, and in that case it can help us to live more thankful and giving lives.
Aside from the world of advertising, social media also can be a source of comparison with our peers. This can prompt a variety of reactions within us if we are part of those worlds. I imagine that people who constantly scroll through social media may do so to keep in touch with others, but they may also find ways to celebrate their friends blessings and achievements. However, as the news stories often highlight, there is a darker side to this psychologically. I’ve read quotes that say that the pictures other people share of their lives are often the ‘highlight reels’ of what is going on with them. We may never know that, but what we do know is that studies show that constant comparison can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and wellbeing.
Is this something you need to think about in the pandemic when issues such as loneliness, poor health, illness and low self esteem may be more at the fore than usual? Do you need to take a step back?
Of course we don’t need to be part of the worlds of social media to experience the comparison trap. We might experience it through the updates of a friend through text, email, letter or face to face. Even though we are separated by the pandemic restrictions, we are in many ways more ‘connected’ than ever. We need to forge out mutually healthy and beneficial connections, but this is not always the case when people are part of worlds when they gain insight into the lives of people they are not necessarily close to.
It is good when we face comparison to take a step back and be grateful for what we have, for our own lives, and to seek to be inspired. Comparison isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s what we do with it that matters and how we process our thoughts, emotions and reactions.
There is a verse in the Bible that says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn”. What a verse to hold to in 2020 and going forwards, with so many ups and downs and contrasts! Christianity prompts us to lift our eyes away from ourselves to Jesus Christ and to love and serve Him and other people.
If you are struggling with the comparison trap, know that you are human, everyone experiences it to some extent, and don’t beat yourself up for it. Perhaps you need to take a step back, work on a change of attitude, or think about whether something is ‘triggering you’.
I don’t experience much of this on Word Press blogging. Actually, until recently I have enjoyed the variety of things coming up in my news feed on the bloggosphere. Unfortunately, however, I felt the need to unfollow someone whose blog I enjoyed reading because of the contrast that wasn’t good for my mental health – something good is happening in their life and while I don’t personally know them, I am pleased for them from a distance. But at the same time, it feels like they are sharing a lot about this good thing and it is in a way a stumbling block for me, and so to protect my mental health I’ve had to consider not seeing those posts so much. I can choose to go to their blog and read it when I like, but I’ve also chosen not to have those posts randomly pop up in my feed when I’m not mentally ready to see them, because the contrasts are difficult for me. That’s ok. We all need to consider each other, but sometimes we’re not so good at doing that, so we learn as we grow.
I try to write posts that will encourage all of you, but please do let me know if there is anything that you find challenging or want me to consider in how I can better support you through my writing.
In the meantime, remember that your life is unique, beautiful, one of a kind and incomparable. As you live it, seek to uplift other people and don’t let your successes cause anyone else to stumble as far as you are able or it is in your power to do so.
Your life is precious. Live it well. Today. Be blessed. x
Life can leave us with all kinds of internal wounds. You know what I’m talking about, right? A broken heart can be the result of all kinds of different things, not merely the lovelorn heart that we often read about in literature. Our hearts or spirits can be wounded or crushed because of not feeling loved, rejection, low self esteem, feeling like we don’t measure up, wounding words, verbal abuse, mental abuse, physical and psychological abuse, or just feeling ignored, hurt, used or left out in the world. Even when things seem to be going great, our hearts can get wounded because of friends taking us for granted or a harsh tone of voice. In this pandemic year, we are faced with many more challenges to normal. We see and hear of people dying from coronavirus and other things, we may feel isolated or alone or just disconnected even when around people. Empaths may be having a particularly hard time of it in feeling the pain of others. Then there are the circumstances related to ill health, mental health, financial worries, and so forth.
My heart was wounded and my spirit crushed pretty badly in childhood, over and over again and the effects still linger. I owe my life to my Saviour Who ‘heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds’, (psalm 147:3) and it is ‘by His wounds we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5). There is no love so healing, so understanding, so compassionate and loving as the Love of Jesus. He knows and has felt every pain. He can make it right in His perfect way and time.
Over the past few years I have learned that I need to take better care of my heart because no other human being is going to do it for me – in fact, most people in our lives will hurt us in some way, even though there are people who love us deeply – it’s just the way things are in this broken world.
Ultimately, it is Jesus Who heals our wounds as we let Him in. Our Creator, Whose Heart was broken for us at the Cross and in His Life can more than Handle Healing and Renewing our broken hearts and making beauty come forth from them. There is nothing He cannot Redeem with His Sacrificial, Perfect Love poured out for us all.
God Is also a very practical God, and there are other ways we can strengthen our hearts too. The Source of Healing Is God Himself, by His Spirit and His Word, yet complementary to that we can all strengthen our hearts in different ways.
Healing and strengthening can come from friendships of mutual respect, love and care. There will be some people in the world that have said horrible things to or about you but isn’t it wonderful and healing and soothing to receive the kind words of a friend who will say you are valued, important, unique and wonderful (and if no one has ever told you that, then please receive them from me today). It strengthens our heart to give such true words to others too.
During times of depression, anxiety and mental distress, and chronic pain, I found that my brain found relief through creative activities such as arts, crafts, adult colouring in, music and such like. These kinds of activities engage areas of our brain related to healing, pain relief, pleasure and concentration or ‘flow states’. Over time, these have been like a medicine to me, and a source of joy and healing under God’s care.
Nature can strengthen our hearts, as can doing things that are helpful for our body and mind such as reading good books, looking after our health in what we eat, getting a healthy amount of exercise and positive self talk. Our hearts can also be strengthened through learning more about the lives and testimonies of others.
If you need some inspiration, know that the person writing to you was once so broken, crushed and defeated that I felt I could not and did not want to go on in life as a child, and then in adulthood have suffered from the recurring effects of that, but now I am finding a way forwards, and am moving through the stages of victim, rescued, survivor, overcomer to hopefully soon the next stage of ‘thriver’ by the Grace of God.
So if you are feeling defeated or down, know that there is hope for you. Take some time aside from the needs, demands and cruelty of others and give yourself time and space to strengthen your heart, daily. Please choose wisely as not everything we do is good for us -sometimes we want to numb out pain, but ultimately that leads to more problems or even destruction.
‘Guard your heart above all else for out of it spring forth the issues of life’.
Be blessed, be hopeful and take some time out to nurture yourself today. Perhaps like me you find that writing strengthens your heart too – if you haven’t written anything or blogged in a while, why not take a few minutes today to pick up a pen or type some words on your keyboard, whether or not you will share them with the world, with a friend, or keep them to yourself, it is a start and it might just give you a bit of ‘heart exercise’ that you need today.
With love and prayers, for your peace, salvation and wellbeing. x
I find that despite the pandemic, there is something quite calming and anticipatory about the Advent season. As a Christian, a follower and worshipper of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as strange as it sounds ‘I look forward in anticipatory remembrance’ of His first coming into the world as the Incarnate Christ, God humbling Himself in Human form to be Emmanuel, God with us, and Saviour of the World!
Other people look forward as well as Christmas approaches to a time of rest, perhaps, with a few days off work, and possibly even the chance to spend time relaxing with friends and family. This year certainly looks different to what we are all used to, what with the pandemic and all! Yet, there is something about this time of year that can for many be both a season of calm and of anxiety.
For those of us who will get some time off work and time to relax, and for those of us who enjoy Christmas, this is something to look forward to, even though there may be particular challenges this year.
However, in a ‘normal’ year, there is also a sense of anticipation in a way that might bring us unease. When Christmas passes, we know that soon to follow will be boxing day, perhaps some more days of rest, and then eventually we will take down the tree, the decorations, and before we know it we will be ushering in a ‘new year’ and many of us will be back to work.
I remember writing last year about how I was preparing for the start of the new working year as I finished up with work before the Christmas holidays 2019. Feel free to take a look through my posts from this season last year for inspiration.
At the close of a year, we tend to comfort ourselves with the anticipation of a new year. As 2019 was drawing to a close, many of us took inspiration from the thought of a ‘brand new year’ and a ‘brand new decade’, and I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who noticed and also wrote about the idea of 2020 vision being a concept that had been brought to the fore, and one which we could apply to our own lives.
Yet, 2020 has certainly not been something that any of us could have anticipated in our plans or vision for that year or the next decade.
Yet as we approach 2021, I would encourage all of us to have an attitude of ‘preparedness’. Let’s explore what this might mean, and what it could look like….
2020 and mental health:
If like me, you’re somewhat of a ‘veteran’ with mental health challenges (c-PTSD, clinical depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, etc), then you may already have had some ‘coping mechanisms’ under your belt which helped you and I to deal with many of the challenges of 2020.
I am inclined to believe that there will be a fair few people this year, and perhaps some among you reading this, who have experienced mental health challenges this year in the pandemic even if you hadn’t really experienced this before.
Perhaps many things have come as a shock to you, and like some of us before, you’ve experienced things mentally and in your body’s response to stress that ‘freaked you out’ a bit, I guess for want of a better phrase. Anxiety for example can be very scary when you don’t know what’s happening when you experience fight/flight/freeze, racing and intrusive thoughts and don’t have any idea if you’re going mad or about to faint or die, etc! It takes time, work and learning to understand what is happening to us and to find the right tools and techniques to get stronger and manage these unwanted experiences.
As we approach 2021, we may be faced with the uncertainty of what lies ahead, but we can begin to prepare ourselves and build upon our resilience even as the new year perhaps seems to ‘loom’ ahead of some of you. How can we do this? Let’s think about some options:
Tools for resilience:
Begin to identify whether you have had any particular mental health or other health challenges, seek support and research ways in which you can make progress and build strength and resilience.
Take a fresh look at your finances, and start thinking and planning ways in which you can better use your resources.
Consider the opportunities that you may have to meet that at the moment seem like challenges – do you need to adapt the way in which you work, do you need to apply for a new job, do you need to change your day to day routine or consider your caring responsibilities?
Build a network of contacts whether help from professionals or supportive friends so that you are not facing the new year alone.
Re-evaluate how you have been spending your time, and what might be draining your energy, resources and mental wellbeing, and think of the small steps you can begin to take to make positive changes in your life.
Think about self care as being part and parcel of day to day life, and build in nurturing activities every day. These can include looking at what you eat, your water intake, the information you are taking in or should leave out, whether you are getting time outside, time to reflect and be still, exercise, and whether you have time to do things that your mind can enjoy and grow from such as learning or hobbies.
Find inspiration and mentors from the people around you or from what you read or watch online. There is no shortage of inspiring people if you just begin to look for them.
Feed your faith and not your fear, and consider what you spend your time thinking about and how you can begin to change your thought patterns.
There are so many more things we can do to build resilience as we approach the unknown, and we can look at more of these later and in more detail. But for now, know that you are not alone, you are capable, you don’t need to sink under the pressure of the challenges we face, you have a safe and endlessly encouraging place here with my blog, and from someone who has lived through many real challenges, and there are ways and means for finding help, support and empowerment, even if you don’t know exactly the next step to take right now.
The fact that you are reading this and have read to this point shows that you are able to find a starting point for resilience building and seeking out positive and inspiring content and people, so keep taking those next small steps, know that I am right here with you, and never give up.
Ultimately, thought we need something far Greater than all our tools and techniques to get us through – we need deep, true and lasting PEACE which can come only from The Prince of Peace Himself, Jesus Christ, through Whom we can have real experiential Shalom – a Peace with God through reconciliation and forgiveness of our sins because of the Price Jesus paid in His flesh through His death on the cross and His Resurrection. Without Him, I could only have temporary fixes, but even in my darkest or most difficult moments in life, in His Hands I am always Secure and have an eternal and enduring Peace with God and a Love that strengthens me from within. I hope you know the true Shalom of Jesus too. Be blessed.